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Housing numbers stack up

Kaye Ferry

Last week I started on the week-long study conducted by the Urban Land Institute. They are an “advisory services panel providing a quick expert response to specific issues.”The ULI, founded in 1936, has a membership of 30,000 land planning, architectural, transportation, real estate and development professionals who agree to volunteer their time for one week a year. They were tasked with looking at the issue of workforce housing in Eagle County and embarked on a five-day process that included tours, briefings and interviews with 60 business, government and community leaders. Somehow, they included me.Like a lot of things, we sometimes have to go to an outside source to tell us things we already know. Usually, we pay for that advice. This time we got it for free.But I’m an information junkie, so I loved every minute of it. And I loved that they laid it out, plain and simple with no ax to grind or role to fill other than a good honest look at “current and future housing conditions and direction on how to best address the needs for the workforce.” One question on the table was: “Can the private market solve the problem?” The answer? “No.” Primarily because the extraordinary demand is coming from the outside.By 2015, 15,700 new residents will be added to the valley; by 2025 that number will rise to 31,400. That’s in terms of increase since 2005.Furthermore, 18,265 new jobs will be created by 2015 and 36,763 by 2025. And as a benchmark, we are currently short 3,500 units with 600 additional units needed per year for a total of 8,500 units needed in the next 10 years.Here’s where I had my first problem. I asked for the definition of a unit. I was told it could mean everything from a lock-off studio to a four-bedroom house. I suggested that needs clarification and received acknowledgement that it would be addressed in the final report which is not due for several months. The average house in Eagle County is $535,350. At an annual salary of $72,000, it is necessary to work an additional 64.5 hours a month to pay the mortgage. Left alone, the price and affordability gap will only widen.So where do we start? We need a consolidated vehicle for coordinating the various community initiatives. The quality of information must improve with unification of government activities. This strategy is necessary for survival. It will require a multi-jurisdictional housing authority with the power to finance, construct, buy, sell, lease, levy taxes, access state and federal resources, and take advantage of tax exemptions. They must develop partnerships with developers, apply for grants and loans, develop philanthropic strategies, train, and educate.They need to have a regional voice, a sustained focus and shared resources as well as a dedicated revenue stream based on a variety of sources: sales tax, real estate transfer tax, property tax, etc.All local housing positions should be transferred to the county; all studies should be consolidated. There should also be a standardization of housing agreements throughout the county.The executive director has to have development experience, administrative abilities and political savvy. There should be a board of directors representing all the major players. There should also be a resource board chosen for their expertise.Development should provide flexible units near transportation. It should control sprawl which means higher density in already disturbed areas. It should provide a sense of safety and develop a spirit of pride. It should also respect the visual quality and unique characteristics of each community. It must represent a county-wide effort and commitment keeping in mind that a healthy economy has a diverse workforce, with a quantity and variety of quality affordable housing options in key locations. It must serve a target market in a range of incomes and must be seen as an asset that creates a sense of community while provide necessary services.And last but not least, this problem has been a long time in the making and will require time to fix.Wow! What a mouthful.But there is good news. It’s not a lost cause. We’re not over the tipping point. Yet. But with no intervention, it will get worse. Yet strange as it may seem, the ULI sees more commonality within the community than we see. Their recommendation is that we translate that into a common vision and be proactive in solving the problem. To date, we have been reactive.The private sector is not responsible for solving the problems of workforce jobs, nor can the public sector solve it alone. We must work together. But the county must take the lead in meeting the housing needs of its people regardless of income.Each of the eight consultants said a mouthful. To achieve even a portion of what they suggested will require a huge commitment and more importantly, a relinquishing of egos which will probably present the biggest challenge in a community of Type A personalities. The greatest advantage this group brought was they are not politicians and they are not from here. They came to do a job, not win votes. They observed, discussed, recommended and left town. But the moderator made one stinging comment in response to a suggestion from the audience that the ULI was espousing “socialistic solutions” to the housing problem. He said: “I’m an Hispanic from the inner city of L.A. and I’m shocked with the living conditions of much of your work-force.”In conclusion, a plea was conveyed. “We’ve never been to a place that’s been more studied. Please let us be the last.”On a side note. Vail’s housing solution got a setback last week when Vail Resorts rejected the Corum proposal for the redevelopment of Timber Ridge. So the tension mounts.Do your part: call them and write them. To contact the Town Council, call 479-1860, ext. 8, or e-mail towncouncil@vailgov.com. For past columns, go to vaildaily.com and click on “Commentary” or search for keyword “ferry.” Kaye Ferry is a longtime observer of Vail government. She writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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